When President Obama declared in the Oct. 22 foreign policy debate that sequestration “will not happen,” he caught the attention of those fighting against the across-the-board federal budget cut.

“When he said that, I jumped to my feet,” said Marion Blakey, president of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA). “It is very critical to learn that the White House says sequestration will not happen.”

Until now, the administration has said sequestration “should not” happen and threatened to veto legislation that does not take a balanced approach to deficit reduction, Blakey says.

White House spokesman Jay Carney sought to stop further parsing of the president’s debate statement, saying it was consistent with his policy all along. “What the president said last night was a reiteration of what his position has long been, which is that the sequester, which was designed and passed by Congress, was never meant to become policy. It was never meant to be implemented,” Carney said.

But with the suggestion of a change in Obama’s level of interest in finding a real solution to sequestration, Blakey is calling on the White House and Congress to begin negotiations now.

Blakey, who has been at the forefront of AIA’s “Second-to-None” lobbying effort to prevent sequestration, suggested that a small group of “serious-minded people” in Congress, the White House and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) could start working thorough the issue. “It’s a process. I would not suggest that the solution is simple,” Blakey says, stopping short of involving AIA or its members in suggestions for how to agree on the most difficult issue in deficit reduction: tax reform.

Congressional Republicans also pounced on the president’s debate statement, arguing that it comes late in the game.

“It is a nice line, but for more than a year the president hasn’t lifted a finger to avert the crisis,” said Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “If the president is determined that these cuts won’t happen, why has he drug it out this long?”

And House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pointed out that the president’s statement that the sequester “is not something that I’ve proposed” was contradicted by journalist Bob Woodward.

Which points to the fact that debate pronouncements and calls for action are a far cry from real action within Congress, and the election results are still likely to play a role in how sequestration is averted or implemented. Washington officials are still discussing potential outcomes that include sequestration taking effect, as current law requires, on Jan. 2.

And defense sources expect a second report from OMB to Congress that would provide more detail on the effects of sequestration. The first, required by the Sequestration Transparency Act, provided a listing of reductions at the account level, rather than the program, project and activity levels, where sequestration is supposed to take place.